October 27, 2023

#08-353: The Red-Headed League

"Vincent Spaulding" tells Jabez Wilson of a vacancy in the Red-headed League (Wikimedia)

Note: Here's another clever story--with a surprise solution--featuring the estimable Sherlock Holmes!

Get Ready: If you wanted to get someone out of his or her house, how would you do it?

One day when Dr. John Watson arrives at the apartment of his friend, Sherlock Holmes, he discovers Holmes speaking with an overweight older man with flaming red hair. The man, Jabez Wilson, has brought Holmes a puzzle. This is the beginning of the story, "The Red-Headed League," author Arthur Conan Doyle's second favorite of his stories (after "The Adventure of the Speckled Band").

Mr. Wilson has brought Holmes an unusual newspaper advertisement given to him by his young assistant, Vincent Spaulding--who, peculiarly, works at half-wages "so as to learn the business." Wilson is a widower; Spaulding lives with him, as does a 14-year-old girl who cooks and cleans.

The ad seeks red-headed men to come and be paid a fairly nice sum to do nothing more than copy--by hand--articles from the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Since Wilson does business mainly in the evening, and the job calls him to be in a particular office from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., he applies for the position, and is hired.

After eight weeks, however, he arrives at the office to learn from a note on the door that "The Red-Headed League is Dissolved." It is this that brought him to Holmes, to aid him in finding out what is going on.

Holmes questions Wilson closely about Spaulding, the assistant, who was only hired a month before he brought Wilson the advertisement. Holmes seems to be familiar with this "Spaulding," and says as much to Watson later.

Holmes and Watson stop in to Wilson's shop, ostensibly to ask directions, but actually so Holmes can observe "the knees of [Spaulding's] trousers." Holmes then leads Watson around the block to examine the businesses on Farringdon Street, behind Wilson's shop: a tobacconist, a newspaper shop, a bank, a restaurant, and a place where carriages are built. After hearing a concert, Holmes dismisses Watson, but asks him to return for some "serious business" at 10 that night, and adds, "kindly put your army revolver in your pocket."

When Watson arrives that night, he finds two men with Holmes: Peter Jones, from Scotland Yard; and Mr. Merryweather, a bank director. The four leave Holmes's and arrive at Farringdon Street, where Merryweather leads them through an alley and several doors to a cellar full of boxes--containing, as it turns out, a great deal of gold that Merryweather's bank borrowed from a bank in France. The four wait there in darkness.

And sure enough: over an hour later, "Spaulding," the assistant--whom Holmes knows to be John Clay, a notorious criminal--lifts from below a floor paver and emerges with his accomplice, the man who had actually engaged Wilson. The "Red-Headed League" had been a ruse to get Wilson out of his shop every day so they could dig from his cellar to that of the bank and steal the gold--until thwarted by Sherlock Holmes!


Practice: Match the term to its definition:

  1. accomplice
  2. cellar
  3. dissolved
  4. flaming
  5. notorious
  6. ostensibly
  7. puzzle
  8. revolver
  9. ruse
  10. thwarted
  1. very bright
  2. a criminal's colleague
  3. a trick
  4. famous for something bad
  5. supposedly
  6. a basement
  7. a problem to be solved
  8. prevented; stopped
  9. brought to an end
  10. a hand-gun

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for October 27, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. b; 2. f; 3. i; 4. a; 5. d; 6. e; 7. g; 8. j; 9. c; 10. h